Getting ready for lambing and kidding
What's happening during the last 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy?
Seventy (70) percent of fetal growth occurs during the last 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy. Most of the female’s mammary (udder) growth is occurring during this period. At the same time, rumen capacity is decreasing. The result is the need for increased nutrition, usually a more nutrient-dense diet.
Extra nutrition is needed to support fetal growth, especially if the female is carrying multiple fetuses. Extra feed is needed to support mammary development and ensure a plentiful milk supply. Proper nutrition will help to prevent the occurrence of pregnancy toxemia (ketosis) and milk fever. It will ensure the birth of strong, healthy offspring of moderate birth weight.
Birth weight is highly correlated to lamb and kid survival, with low and high birth weight offspring usually experiencing the highest mortality.
Nutrition during late gestation
During late gestation, energy is the nutrient most likely to be deficient. The level of nutrients required will depend upon the age and weight of the pregnant female and her expected level of production, i.e. singles, twins, or triplets.
To meet the increased energy needs during this period, it is usually necessary to feed concentrates (grain). In addition, if forage quality is low, it will be necessary to provide a supplemental source of protein and calcium.
Examples of late gestation feed rations are:
3.5 to 4 lbs. of medium to good quality hay plus 1.25 to 1.5 lbs. of concentrate.
4 to 5 lbs. of medium quality hay or pasture equivalent plus 0.5 to 1 lb. of concentrate .
Limit the roughage intake of ewe lambs and doe kids and mature females carrying 3 or more fetuses and feed 1 lb. of grain per fetus.
It is important not to underfeed or overfeed pregnant females. Inadequate nutrition may result in pregnancy toxemia, small and weak lambs/kids, higher lamb/kid mortality, reduced colostrum quality and quantity, poor milk yield, and reduced wool production (in the offspring) via fewer secondary follicles.
Fat females are more prone to pregnancy toxemia. They experience more dystocia (birthing difficulties). Overfeeding can result in oversized fetuses that the female cannot deliver on her own. It costs extra money to make ewes and does fat.
Feed bunk management
In addition to feeding the right ration, you must also practice good feed bunk management. All ewes and does should be able to eat at once. If there is inadequate feeder space, some animals, especially the small, young, old, and timid ones, will not get enough to eat.
Pregnant ewe lambs and doe kids should be fed separately from mature females. Their nutritional requirements are higher because in addition to being pregnant, they are still growing. They may also have trouble competing for feeder space. You should never feed pregnant ewes or does on the ground. This is how diseases, especially abortions, are spread.
Selenium and Vitamin E
Selenium and vitamin E are critical nutrients during the late gestation period. Low levels of selenium (Se) have been associated with poor reproductive performance and retained placentas. Selenium is passed from the placenta to the fetus(es) during late gestation. Selenium supplementation will aid in the prevention of white muscle disease.
Free choice mineral mixes usually provide adequate selenium to pregnant ewes and does. Be sure to feed mineral mixes that have been specifically formulated for sheep and/or goats. Flocks/herds with a history of selenium deficiency should add selenium to the grain mix.
Free choice minerals do not always ensure adequate intake. Selenium may be provided via injections, but supplementation is cheaper and safer. There is a narrow range between selenium requirements and toxic levels.
You need to monitor the intake of calcium (Ca) during late gestation. The female's requirements for calcium virtually double during late gestation. Milk fever is caused by a low blood calcium level, which can be the result of inadequate intake of calcium or failure to immobilize calcium reserves.
Excessive intake of calcium can also be a problem. It is recommended that you save your "best" hay for lactation, and feed a mixed (legume-grass) hay during late gestation.
Grains, such as corn, barley, and oats, are poor sources of calcium. Forages are generally higher in calcium, especially legumes (alfalfa, clovers, lespedeza). Supplemental calcium can be provided through complete grain mixes or mineral supplements (dicalcium phosphate, bonemeal, and limestone).
If low quality forage is fed, calcium should be supplemented through the grain ration. Free choice minerals do not always ensure adequate intake.
Vaccinate for CDT
Pregnant ewes and does should be vaccinated for clostridial diseases (usually clostridium perfringins type C & D and tetanus) approximately one month prior parturition. Vaccinated females will pass antibodies in their colostrum to their newborn lambs/kids. Females that have never been vaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown will
Suggested Lambing and Kidding Supplies
Propylene glycol or molasses
Syringes and needles
Bearing retainer (spoon) or prolapse harness
Rubber gloves, protective sleeves, or latex gloves
Nylon rope, snare, or leg puller
OB S-curve needle
Towels and rags
Gentle iodine (or other disinfectant)
Frozen colostrum (ewe, doe, or cow)
Esophageal feeding tube
Bottles and nipples
Scale and sling
Pocket record keeping book
require two vaccinations at least 2 weeks a part. Males should be vaccinated at the same time, so they are not forgotten.
The most important time evaluate the need to deworm a ewe or doe is prior to parturition. This is because pregnant and lactating ewes/does suffer a temporary loss in immunity (as a result of hormonal changes) that results in a "periparturient rise" in worm eggs.
Deworming with an effective anthelmintic will help the ewe/doe expel the worms and will reduce the exposure of newborn lambs and kids to worm larvae. It will reduce the worm burden when the ewes/does are turned out to pasture in the spring.
Deworming can be done at the same time as CD-T vaccinations. An alternative to deworming the flock is to increase the level of protein in the diet. Protein supplementation has been shown to decrease fecal egg counts in peri-parturient ewes.
Valbazen© should not be given to ewes during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Feed a Coccidiostat
It is a generally a good idea to feed a coccidiostat (Bovatec®, Rumensin®, or Deccox®) to ewes and/or does during late gestation. All sheep and goats have coccidia in their digestive systems. Feeding a coccidiostat will reduce the number of coccidia being shed into the lambing and kidding environment.
You should continue feeding the coccidiostat through weaning. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that feeding a rumensin during late gestation will aid in the prevention of abortions caused by Toxoplasma gondii, which is a coccidia organism harbored by domestic cats.
Coccidiostats, especially rumensin, can be fatal to equines (horses, donkeys, mules).
The use of antibiotics may aid in the prevention of abortions caused by Chlamydia (Enzootic/EAE) or Campylobacter (vibrio). Chlorotetracycline (aureomycin®) has been approved by the Food and Drug Administation (FDA) to feed to pregnant ewes at a rate of 80 mg per head per day to help prevent abortions. Alternatively, injections of antibiotics (e.g. LA-200) every 2 weeks during late gestation may help to prevent abortions.
It is a good idea to shear fiber-producing ewes and does about a month before lambing and kidding. An alternative to shearing is crotching. Crotching is when you remove the wool around the udder and vulva.
There are numerous advantages to shearing prior to lambing and kidding. Shorn ewes put less moisture into the air. Shorn ewes are less likely to lay on their lambs.
Shearing results in a cleaner, drier environment for newborn lambs/kids. They are more likely to seek shelter in inclement weather. Shorn ewes take up less space in the barn and around feeders.
Shearing before parturition results in much cleaner fleeces. However, shorn ewes/does will require more feed to compensate for heat loss due to shearing, especially during cold weather. They require adequate shelter.
Getting your supplies and equipment ready
Two weeks before your first ewes and/or does are due to lamb/kid, you should organize your supplies and set up your facilities. While the general rule of thumb is to have one lambing pen per ten females, you may need more if your lambing and kidding is tightly spaced. A lambing pen, also called a “jug,” is a enclosure (4 x 5 ft. or 5 by 5 ft) where you put the dam and her offspring together for 1 to 3 days to encourage bonding and for close observation. Even with pasture lambing/kidding, you will want a few pens in case you have some problems.
At least 14 days ahead of time, you should bring your ewes or does to the location where they will be lambing or kidding. This will enable them to manufacture antibodies specific to the environment in which their offspring will be born. Lambing and kidding can occur in a well-bedded barn or on a clean pasture. The area should be dry and protected from drafts.
References and further reading
Suggested lambing and kidding supplies - Washington State University
Late gestation ewe management
Ewe management tips: mid and late gestation - Virginia Tech
Pre-lambing ewe management - Pipestone Vet Clinic
Pregnant ewe nutrition - Oregon State University
Feeding the pregnant and lactating female [PPT]
This article was written in 2005 by Susan Schoenian.